Useless

•November 3, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Thomas Merton, in writing about the vocation of a monk, said: “The monk is not defined by his task, his usefulness. In a certain sense, he is supposed to be ‘useless’ because his mission is not to do this or that but to be a man of God.”

Tom Ashbrook, in his book Mansions of the Heart, speaks to the idea that we all have an “inner monk” that needs to be nourished. What he meant is that all of us, having been created in the image of God, have a longing for God – a longing to just be in His presence and know Him with all our being. In a world that values doing over being and accomplishments over character, it is difficult to nurture our inner monk. It is not easy to “be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

Last spring, I wrote the following as an expression of my desire in this …

To become useless, dare I be?

A new way to live

Desiring to be free

Letting go of want

To simply do I release

Entering into being

Entering into peace

 

The Silence of the Desert Fosters Love

•October 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

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“The ego is relinquished, along with its constant flow of chatter and illusion of control, so that love may happen … love takes wing where calculation ends.” Beldon C. Lane

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul describes love with the words: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Paul description proclaims that love does not spring from an environment of words (tongues of men and angels), power (moving mountains), measurement (give away all), boasting (envy and boasting), or insistence. The suggestion would be that it springs from an environment of emptiness and nothingness. Love emerges when all has been released. When there is no thought of self. When the chattering and scheming and measuring of the ego is let go.

When I calculate what my love will accomplish or how it will feel to sacrifice so “lovingly” or considering just how much I’m giving … something other than love emerges. It might be pity, it might be veiled pride, it might be any number of things, but it won’t be love.

Silence and solitude fosters love … it allows us the opportunity to release that which infects and dilutes love. Only when our mind is aware of the egoistic chatter can we let go and create the desert from which love flows.

Francis Schaeffer quotes

•September 27, 2012 • 3 Comments


Francis Schaeffer

“Doctrinal rightness and rightness of ecclesiastical position are important, but only as a starting point to go on into a living relationship – and not as ends in themselves.”

“Each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting.”

“Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.”

“I believe that pluralistic secularism, in the long run, is a more deadly poison than straightforward persecution.”

Schaeffer penned these words 30-40 years ago and their relevancy and poignancy become more and more distinct as the years go by. What he said as a “seer” (of sorts) all those years ago could be considered mere observation today. Ponder, discuss, and enjoy!

Jesus Won’t Answer Your Questions

•September 5, 2012 • Leave a Comment

We live in a world where we want answers and we believe that we are entitled to them. The rise of technology and modern science has predictably produced a desire to know the answers and to know them quickly. This world-view is often imported into the way we think about spiritual things. The idea that is that religious thought and theological systems should serve us the way technology and science do. Mystery and “not knowing” are anathema in our modern world.

However, with our modern insistence on answers, we frequently miss out on authentic relationship with a God who is mysterious and who brings us into touching infinite realities. If we demand the knowable and tidy answers, we can’t relate appropriately to an infinite God. By definition, God is ultimately unknowable in an intellectual sense. (note: we can know a lot about God!) However, at the same time, He is knowable in an experiential sense. When we demand “answers”, we run the risk of two things: first, not truly experiencing God, and second, experiencing or “relating” to something that is less than God.

The good news is that the way Jesus interacted with people during His days on earth is incredibly instructive regarding our search for answers and certainty. It has been noted that Jesus was asked 183 questions in the gospels and He only directly answered 3 of those questions. (see Larry Crabb, class notes School of Spiritual Direction 40, June 2011; “The Questions of Jesus” by John Dear) Apparently, Jesus didn’t like to answer questions.

Jesus directly answered the question in Matthew 27, “Are you the king of the Jews?” However, just two verses later, He refused to answer a question (remember that He was silent before His accusers – 1 Peter 2). In other situations, He answered a question with a question as in Mark 10:17. (“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?”) The parable of the Good Samaritan was in response to question (Luke 10). Often Jesus answered questions with a response that reflected what He wanted a person to know, not what they thought they wanted to know. In still other accounts, Jesus referred to an Old Testament passage that would have led the questioners to much different conclusions than expected.

The list of examples could go on and on, but the bottom line is that Jesus apparently didn’t want to give people answers. He wanted people to think and draw their own conclusions. He wanted to transform people’s thinking and world-view rather than spout out theological truth that would receive a simple “agree” or “disagree” response.

Richard Rohr comments that, “In general, we can see that Jesus’ style is almost exactly the opposite of modern televangelism or even the mainline church approach of ‘Dear Abby’ bit of inspiring advice and workable solutions for daily living. Jesus is too much the Jewish prophet to merely stabilize the status quo with platitudes.”

Much of what Christians do in our modern world is thoughtlessly throw out theological truth that does not transform; it merely provides lines in the sand. Perhaps, we would be better served to respond to questions with questions or obscuring truth a bit in order to understand what people truly want. Remember that Jesus spoke in parables (He explained in Mark 4) because He didn’t want people to know some of the things He was talking about. People often ask us questions that are not really what is going on in their lives. People often ask questions to bolster previously adopted views and draw their own lines in the sand. As followers of Christ, we are encouraged not to argue people into belief and trust in Jesus but to lovingly get to know people’s hearts and share how Jesus has affected who we are, step by step as we are able to address people’s hearts and souls.

In addition, many Christians do not have vibrant, growing relationships of intimacy with the God of the universe because the desire for answers has over simplified and stripped them of relying on God in the face of mystery. There are so many things that we can’t answer. For example, why is there suffering? Honestly, many theological answers use logic but either strip the goodness or sovereignty of God from the discussion. Theological systems can make nice, neat boxes but God cannot be contained in a nice, neat box.

Jesus didn’t want to give answers because He wanted to have relationships with people. Relationships are shrouded in mystery and intrigue. He desired relationships in the days He walked the earth and the same is true today.

Sentence Diagramming/Spiritual Life

•September 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment


Most of us can remember diagramming sentences at some point in our academic careers and perhaps like nothing else, it evoked the proverbial question, “when will I ever use this in real life?”

Upon reflection, I would suggest that perhaps this is most useful skill we ever learn. The essence of diagramming sentences is knowing where to put the subject and object of the sentence. The subject is that which controls the action and the object is that which receives the action, or is acted upon. Once we understand what is what, we are able to derive the meaning of what is going on. If we mistake the subject for the object, we can absolutely misunderstanding what is happening. “I sat on the elephant” has a vastly differently meaning from “the elephant sat on me.” Getting our grammar right influences the way we interpret what is going on. The first sentence is playful and the second could be deathly.

In our spiritual lives (which is life itself), if we assume that we are the subject of the sentence, we will assume that we are in control. However, if we see ourselves as the subject of the sentence, being acted upon by a good and loving God, it changes everything.

When we are the subject, we pray to God to get Him to bless us (i.e., do things for us and make life better). When are the object, we seek to know God and submit to His will (i.e., His actions as the subject of the sentence).

Seeing ourselves as the subject and not the object is the very core of how we learn to do life … and therefore, how we learn to interpret life. As teenagers, the world revolves around us. It is difficult to interpret life but from our own perspective. True adulthood (spiritual maturity) occurs as we are able to see God as the subject of all sentences and ourselves as the object of His love, able to participate in what He is doing.

This shift in perspective doesn’t come naturally but as a work of the Spirit in our lives as we seek time alone with the Father … asking Him to re-diagram the sentences of our lives. Quiet, soulful reflection is the essence of this deep spiritual work and must be fought for.

See? Your elementary grammar teacher wasn’t so bad after all!

Disintegration and the Need for Spiritual Disciplines

•July 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Given the state of our modern world, it seems that someone is always complaining about the disintegration of something: the family or morality or ethics or the economy. Disintegration is always described as something “out there” and not seen in terms of the self. This makes a lot of sense in an age where taking personal responsibility is of little interest and certainly not necessary from a philosophical standpoint. The problem is always somewhere else. However, this is nothing new. The first humans (Genesis 3) blamed each other and a serpent for the disintegration of their trust in God.

However, while systems and culture may indeed be disintegrating around us, the only hope is for us to deal with our own personal disintegration. In a very literal sense, the essence of sin is disintegration. Rather than living a life which is integrated (connected/abiding) with the life of God, we naturally find things in a state of dis-integration. Sins are the actions which flow from a state of disintegration. When Jesus died on the cross, He forgave us of sin and gave a new heart/a revamped soul in which integration can take place. Dallas Willard in hid books, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ, says that integration occurs when “all of the essential parts of the human self are effectively organized around God, as they are restored and sustained by him. Spiritual transformation in Christ is the process leading to that ideal end, and its result is love of God with all of the heart, soul, mind, and strength, and of the neighbor as oneself.”

Disintegration is a reality when my body has a mind of its own (cravings of various kinds) and is not responsive to what I desire (my will). Disintegration is a reality when the social/relational part of me gives in to people pleasing rather than being quiet (which my mind may suggest quietly is the best response in given situation). When all of me (mind, body, will) is living in concert and responding lovingly to God’s direction (i.e., love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength – Matthew 22), I am living an integrated life.

The Spiritual Disciplines are key in seeing all of us become integrated and under God’s loving leadership. Fasting is a discipline which brings the body to a place of integration. Silence and solitude provide space for the social part of me to become unfettered. Meditation on Scripture transforms the mind and shifts it Godward. Spiritual disciplines, far from being restraining, actually provide freedom. A fish is most alive in the water. A human is most alive in loving, integrated connection with the Father. The discipline of water brings life to the fish. Spiritual disciplines bring life to humanity in so far as they bring integration and organization to our souls.

Christianity is Not Moral

•June 19, 2012 • 4 Comments

Jacques Ellul, the French author and philosopher, made the assertion: “Christianity is not moral, it is spiritual.” Given the dominant emphasis on morality by Christians, this is perhaps a surprising, if not shocking, statement. However, I believe that he is on to something.

It’s important to understand what is not being said. Ellul is not saying that Christianity is amoral or immoral. Certainly, there is a morality that is a part of the discussion. In fact, there is a morality that is designed to flow from the Christian life. However, Ellul was trying to make an important distinction. The essence of Christianity is not trying to follow a moral code or attain a standard of morality. The essence of Christianity is spiritual. It’s about the heart. It’s a relationship between our spirit and the spirit of God.

Jesus spoke to this reality on several occasions. For example, in Matthew 22, He answered a question about the greatest commandment by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” In Matthew 7, He said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” When He said, “this is the Law and Prophets” and “on these commandments depend all the Law and Prophets”, He was saying that a life walking with Him is relational. It is spiritual. All morality flows from a loving connection with God and others.

There is a part of us that might easily agree with such a distinction. However, in western culture, we are shaped by a way of thinking that drives an opposing stake into our hearts everyday. We live in an information age where data and “to do” lists run the day. The water in which we swim is a world where we instinctively want to codify everything into equations and formulas with predictable outcomes. The result is that we want information. We want to know what to do.

In a faith system where its not fundamentally about what we do, but the essence of our hearts, this is like trying to walk up the down escalator. It’s swimming against the current.

Oswald Chambers challenges “Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you! God does not tell you what He is going to do; He reveals to you who He is.” Why? Because Christianity is not moral, it is spiritual.

So, how do we live in a way we are not shaped by the desire for information and formulas but by the Spirit of God? It’s not so easy but we have to step out of the water. We have to step away and find quiet and solitude where we can listen to the voice of God instead of the voice of our culture. Until we do, we will, perhaps with great intentions, try to force Christianity into the mold of this world rather than allowing a vital connection with God shape and transform us.